Last fall when Laurie at Soldiers' Angels NY invited me to room with her at the Milblog conference, I was touched. Part of me thought, "But I'm not really a milblogger." The other part of me thought, "Way cool! I could meet all of the people that I read daily!" After mulling it over for a week or so, I had to face reality. Getting to DC for the milblog conference was just not something I could do this year. Making long distance plans is not one of my strong points. There was just too much uncertainty coming up this spring to make plans last fall. Now, I have made trips to Austin, Houston, and Kerrville. With a family reunion to Red River coming soon, I know that it would have been just too much to have gone to DC. Still, after reading and watching videos from the conference, I just wish I had been there. I won't link everyone that was there, but Desert Flier has posted some videos from the conference that are well worth watching. If you have never read any milblogs, these videos will make you understand why you should be reading them. He also has photos and a story of helping a small Iraqi girl - very moving. Duty in the Desert has posted lots of links to the conference, and he has a great post written by By Hoshyar ZebariForeign Minister of Iraq on how our soldiers are doing a great job in Iraq. If you are only reading mass media to get your news on the war, you are just missing out on what is really happening. Americans need to understand what a difference our military is making in the Middle East. Also, I have an update from my Marine cousin on the opening of a mosque in Ramadi. He sent pictures, but I have not figured out how to post them (or at least post a few of them. Here is Jim's email:
Friends and Family,
Today was the re-opening of the Ramadi Mosque (formerly the Saddam Mosque but renamed by locals). The Iraqi Army and coalition forces worked together to secure the site and turn it over to a local contractor for cleanup and renovations. When we arrived two weeks ago, the grass was over 6 feet high, windows were all broken out and the rugs inside were terribly soiled from the hundreds of pigeons roosting in the mosque. The cleanup work was done entirely by Iraqi citizens and Iraqi Army. Today, the city's religious leaders came to reopen the mosque. The imam's message to over 1000 attendees included denouncing local insurgents and Al Queda and praising the efforts and cooperation of the Iraqi Army, Police and American military. (all the photos from inside were taken by Iraqi Army)
Great, great day. This mosque, one of the largest in Al Anbar and the largest in Ramadi, is now a home for Ramadi's devout, not insurgents. You'll notice in one of the first photos, a long pole on the ground. That was a 40 foot pole that we found on the mosque grounds that insurgents were using to push IEDs out of the mosque to attack American and Iraqi convoys. Just weeks ago, the large traffic intersection near this mosque was one of the most heavily IEDd locations in all of Iraq. Today, civilians and religious leaders strolled leisurely across the street into their house of worship.
The Iraqi Army was key to the success of this project. They provided daily security for the site, conducted close coordination with the Iraqi contractor to help hire local nationals for the work, provided some of their trucks to remove debris, and they provided thousands of gallons of water from their resources to clean the mosque's rugs and furniture. They engaged local leaders from across the city to encourage participation in the reopening.
Today was another great day for the city of Ramadi. The city is turning around one day at a time.